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Sibelius: Symphonies No 3 & 6 / Ashkenazy, Philharmonia Orchestra

Release Date: 12/10/2010 
Label:  Decca   Catalog #: 436478  
Composer:  Jean Sibelius
Conductor:  Vladimir Ashkenazy
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Philharmonia Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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This CD is reissued by ArkivMusic.

Notes and Editorial Reviews

In the early 20th Century, Sibelius enjoyed the championship of a great Russian pianist-conductor, Alexander Siloti. In Ashkenazy he has found a natural heir and a worthy successor.

Decca were the first to give us a complete mono Sibelius cycle from the same artists, Anthony Collins and the LSO (Walter Legge's plans to get Sibelius himself to London to conduct or supervise an EMI cycle never came to fruition): Decca, too, were the first to complete a similar enterprise in stereo in the 1960s. In the former the Third, for all its undoubted merits, was the weak link in the chain, while in the latter (Maazel with the VPO) it was the Sixth that was the least successful. This newcomer from Vladimir Ashkenazy and the
Read more Philharmonia Orchestra makes handsome amends, for in nearly all important respects, they get it right.

Anthony Collins's account of the Third (mono LXT2960, 12/54-nla) set a fashion both in the concert hall and on record for rather quicker tempos in the first two movements than those adopted by the pioneering 1933 records of Robert Kajanus and the LSO, which had Sibelius's own imprimatur (HMV Sibelius Society, Vol. 2, 1/34), and it was not until Barbirolli (HMV ASD2648, 12/70—nla), Okko Kamu (DG 2530 426, 9/74nla) and Sir Cohn Davis (Philips) that this trend was reversed. Even so, in the first movement Ashkenazy is faster than the metronome marking of crotchet 126, and so there is a no want of forward momentum and thrust either here, or for that matter, in the finale. There are many thoughtful touches: I have not heard the descending scale figure that closes the exposition of the first movement sound more pesanie or the transition into the development more imaginatively handled. The tempos and spirit of the Andantino are well judged though the withdrawn passage in the slow movement (at fig. 6) could perhaps have more inwardness of feeling; Ashkenazy is not helped, however, by the slightly closer than ideal balance which casts too bright a light on a landscape that should be shrouded in mystery. The timpani at fig. 13 are just that bit more prominent than they would otherwise be: even though I am aware that they are marked mezzo forte and marcago. But small quibbles apart, this new version certainly holds its own with the current competition in both formats, though if forced to a choice, so far as LP is concerned, I would still opt for the Davis account.

In the Sixth Symphony, there is no lack of choice either: on LP there is again Davis and the Boston Symphony Orchestra and at mid-price Karajan's 1967 DG account. On CD, both the refurbished Karajan (DG) and the Gothenburg version under Järvi (BIS) present formidable competition, though they are differently coupled: Karajan offers the Fourth Symphony and Järvi the incidental music to Pelléas ci Mélisande. It is clear from the start that Ashkenazy has great feeling for this symphony and its architecture. I like the breadth of the first movement; there is, too, no lack of that sense of communion with nature which lies at the heart of the slow movement or the sense of its power which emerges in the finale. He is a good deal broader than Karajan though that performance has an altogether special atmosphere, and unlike Schnhevoigt (World Records SH 173/4, 4/73—nla) who was the first to record it, Ashkenazy lets every detail tell in the Poco vivace third movement. Indeed, this strikes me as the most successful so far in the current cycle with the Seventh as a close runner-up--and highly recommendable

My only reservation is the close and rather analytical balance. This serves to rob the wind writing in the middle section (fig. 10) of the second movement of the Third Symphony of its full mystery, and does less than full justice to the sheen and opulence of the Philharmonia strings. I noticed this particularly at fig. B in the finale of the Sixth and found the sound balance secured by the Gothenburg engineers more flattering, even if the string tone is not so opulent. The Järvi, too, is a very fine account—and I must say that the more I hear Karajan's version, the more it strikes me as being in a class of its own (the improvement in the quality of sound on CD is marked).

Early in the present century Sibelius enjoyed the championship of another great Russian pianist-conductor, Alexander Siloti in whose concerts the Third Symphony was heard as early as 1909, only a year after it reached London. In Ashkenazy he has found a natural heir and a worthy successor.

-- Gramophone [8/1985]
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 3 in C major, Op. 52 by Jean Sibelius
Conductor:  Vladimir Ashkenazy
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Philharmonia Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1907; Finland 
Date of Recording: 05/1983 
Symphony no 6 in D minor, Op. 104 by Jean Sibelius
Conductor:  Vladimir Ashkenazy
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Philharmonia Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1923; Finland 
Date of Recording: 06/1984 

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